After fifty years of heated debate, scientists now have “irrefutable evidence” that a tiny songbird that weighs just 12 grams can fly over the Atlantic in a non-stop flight. The songbird can cross vast oceans, covering a distance of about 1,700 miles without stopping for food or rest, according to a new study published in the journal Biology Letters.
Researchers used geolocators to track birds
The blackpoll warbler summers in the northern North America and migrates each autumn to South America. For over five decades, researchers have debated whether the songbirds fly non-stop or take breaks on land during this marathon flight. The study was conducted by a team of scientists led by Bill DeLuca of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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In 2013, scientists attached geolocators to 40 songbirds. Before starting their journey, the birds fuel up on extra spiders, insects and fruits. The tracking devices revealed that the birds completed this astonishing flight of between 1,410 and 1,721 miles non-stop. That was the distance from songbirds’ summer homes in Nova Scotia and Vermont to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Greater Antilles islands. The birds further traveled to northern Venezuela and Colombia.
It’s an extraordinary feat for a songbird
The geolocators could track the flight path but couldn’t transmit real-time data. Researchers were able to recover five devices with stored information. We know that gulls, sandpipers and albatrosses could make ultra-long flights because of their long, broad wings. And they could settle on the water when tired. But for a songbird, which is no bigger than a tennis ball, doing “such a feat is a wonder.”
Bill DeLuca, the lead author of the study, said that we have only now begun to understand the migratory routes of songbirds that connect tropical wintering areas to temperate breeding grounds. DeLuca said it is “one of the longest non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a songbird.” The study confirms what is believed to be one of the most extraordinary feats on the Earth.